Flu season can begin as early as October and run as late as March. However, it is not uncommon for sporadic cases to appear all year long. That means, even though we’re in the midst of September, you still have a chance of catching the flu, but you also still have the chance to put up your best defense.
With the flu in the news every fall and winter, you might have questions about why the flu is so dangerous, why it’s worse this year, whether the flu shot was (or will be) effective, and how you can protect yourself and your family from the flu. We want to answer some of those questions here.
First, we want to provide you with the best resources for the latest news on the flu:
- FluView, the weekly flu report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- The state flu activity report from the Ohio Department of Health
What is the Flu?
- The flu is a contagious respiratory illness that’s caused by a virus that spreads through droplets from people who sneeze, cough or talk.
- You can have a mild or severe case and may or may not have the most common symptoms — fever, body aches, chills, cough, sore throat or a headache.
- Recovery time varies from a few days to up to two weeks.
What will we see this flu season?
“It’s hard to predict what a given flu season is going to be like because it’s such an unpredictable disease and can change so much,” says Laurie Hommema, MD, program director at the Riverside Family Practice Center.
The formulation of the flu vaccine is determined by World Health Organization scientists, who do their best to predict which strains of the flu might be active in a coming season. The effectiveness of the flu vaccine is usually estimated at around 50 to 60 percent, but experts say that the flu vaccine is about 10 percent effective this year.
This year’s 10 percent success rate is based on influenza A H3N2, a strong and stubborn strain of seasonal flu that causes worse disease and can thwart vaccines intended to stop it.
Why is the flu so dangerous?
“The flu virus can get deep in your lungs. Your immune system responds and you get mucus and fluids, and then other bacteria grows and develops and causes pneumonia,” says Glenn Williams, MD, director of OhioHealth Corporate Onsite Clinics and Wellness Programs. “In some cases, that bacteria will get into the bloodstream and it causes something called sepsis, which goes to your organs, and that can cause you to die.”
More than 100 children nationwide died from the flu last season. In the state of Ohio, more than 9,850 people were hospitalized with flu-related symptoms and four children died. Williams says even otherwise healthy people can die from the flu, but those under 5 and over 65 face the greatest risk.
Who should get a flu shot?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a flu shot for everyone 6 months and older. “You must be vaccinated if you are a child or you have children, if you’re elderly, or if you have underlying health issues,” Hommema says. “But it’s truly recommended that everyone’s vaccinated.”
Who shouldn’t get the flu shot?
Children under 6 months old or people with life-threatening allergies to ingredients in the vaccine. Also, if you’re feeling ill, have an egg allergy or have had Guillain-Barre syndrome, talk to your doctor before having a flu shot.
Can the flu vaccine give me the flu?
It is impossible to get the flu from the vaccine. If you do end up contracting the flu after receiving the shot, it means you were either already exposed or you have a different strain.
What do I do if I have the flu?
“The flu, like colds, is a virus,” explains Dr. Hommema. “Antibiotics won’t help, and taking one for conditions they can’t help builds up a resistance.”
Dr. Hommema recommends drinking a lot of fluids to stay hydrated and taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) to help with fever and body aches.
Flu warning signs:
If you have trouble breathing, a high fever (over 104 degrees) and can’t keep down fluids, don’t mess around. Those are emergency warnings that require a call to your primary care doctor or visit an OhioHealth Urgent Care. If you are seen within 48-hours of initial symptoms, you may be able to be prescribed Tamiflu (oseltamivir phosphate).
How else can I prevent the flu?
- Wash your hands. Make sure that everyone in the home is washing their hands with soap and water frequently throughout the day, as well as coughing into their elbow and not their hands. Here are some tips for teaching proper handwashing to your child. Remember: If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based sanitizer to clean your hands.
- Disinfect your home. Clean doorknobs, countertops, handles, remote controls, telephones, keyboards and toys with a diluted bleach solution or disinfectant wipes. The flu virus can live for up to 24 hours on those hard surfaces.
- Do the laundry. Wash clothes, bedsheets and towels in hot water often to kill germs, especially if someone sick has been using them. Germs thrive on wet surfaces, so make sure you are regularly cleaning your towels, sponges and dishrags.
- Run your humidifier. Studies have shown that flu germs survive longer and spread easier in dry conditions. Plus, using one in your home can help you breathe easier, especially when you’re sick.
- Designate a “sick room.” The flu spreads through coughs and sneezes and direct contact with sick people. If someone is sick in your home, keep them confined to a specific area and limit their contact to one caretaker to try to contain the virus. Have the ill person wear a mask, and others in the house can wear a mask as well.
If you think your symptoms are more than a cold, call your primary care doctor or visit an OhioHealth urgent care.